In week eight, the Vikings fell to the Saints behind a series of self-inflicted wounds. Kirk Cousins was mostly good, but a few egregious mistakes proved too much for the Vikings to overcome. Adam Thielen did extend his streak of 100-yard receiving games to eight, tying the record for most straight 100-yard performances.

Box Score Statistics

Cousins completed 31 of his 41 attempts for 359 yards and two touchdowns. He threw one interception and was sacked four times. Cousins was responsible for 21 first downs, and he converted only six of ten third downs through the air. His completion percentage of 76 percent was stellar, as was his 8.8 yards per attempt.

Film Breakdown

The film reveals that Cousins played well for the majority of the day. He consistently made the right read, was generally accurate with the football and performed well against pressure, despite facing it on 46 percent of his dropbacks. Unfortunately for Cousins and the Vikings, a few key errors proved too much to overcome. Thielen and Stefon Diggs again displayed elite route running ability, but each was responsible for one of these errors, which resulted in 14 easy points for the Saints. The offensive line struggled again and was a factor on all but one of the errors.

Cousins and the Vikings started the game on a high note, as they have done often this year. He was accurate on five of his first seven passes, including an elite throw to Diggs on a back shoulder fade down the field.

He then followed that up with a touchdown pass to Diggs, who ran a crafty route and showed off his elite ability to tap both feet in bounds.

After a stop by the defense, the Vikings had a chance to take an early lead. Cousins stayed hot, completing all four passes and being accurate on three of them. The only inaccurate pass still resulted in a 28-yard gain, but Thielen could have had a touchdown if Cousins had led him up the field. Though you can’t see it from the clip below, Laquon Treadwell was also wide open for a touchdown on the opposite side. Nevertheless, the drive ended in a Latavius Murray touchdown, and Cousins’ small error didn’t cost the Vikings this time.

The Vikings got the ball back with a little over two minutes to go in the half. With the Vikings getting the ball to start the second, they had the chance to double up and build a commanding lead.

Cousins and the Vikings started the drive well again, picking up gains of 19, 12 and 7 through the air. Cousins was accurate on five of his seven attempts on the drive. Unfortunately for the Vikings, it was the seventh attempt that began the string of costly errors. Cousins threw a simple screen over to Thielen, who accelerated up the field for what looked to be a nice gain. However, a Saints defender got his helmet on the ball, forcing the fumble. Another Saints defender recovered it, and ran it back deep into Minnesota territory. Two plays later, the Saints scored, turning a surefire Vikings halftime lead into a 17-13 deficit.

Through the first half, Cousins had played great, being accurate on 14 of 19 attempts and leading two touchdown drives. Unfortunately for the Vikings, that hot start did not carry over into the second half. On the Vikings first drive of the second half, they face a fourth and one from their own 45-yard line. Mike Zimmer elects to go for it, something that seemed to make sense given how Cousins had played up to this point and the potency of the Saints offensive attack. However, Cousins fails to connect with Treadwell on a dig route. He throws the ball a hair high, which allows the Saints defender to knock the ball out of Treadwell’s hands. The Saints take over on the Minnesota 45.

It was at this point that the wheels came off completely. On the first play of the Vikings’ drive, Cousins inexplicably turns down an open Thielen, who had found the soft spot in the zone coverage. Cousins then feels the pressure collapsing around him and runs out of the pocket to the left. Cousins only has one receiver as an option to his left, which amazingly is Thielen who has somehow worked across the field. Despite Thielen’s effort, the Saints have a defender waiting for him as he crosses, giving Cousins no option to throw to. At this point, Cousins must throw the ball away. Instead, Cousins gingerly muddles into a pursuing Saints defender who hits him and forces a fumble. Luckily for the Vikings, Cousins is ruled down upon review and the Vikings retain possession.

The Vikings wouldn’t have possession for long. A few plays later, the Vikings face a second and eight from their own 44-yard line. The Saints are showing only one deep safety, aligned on the left hash. Pre-snap, Cousins believes that the Saints are playing cover one, with one safety in the deep middle of the field, and the middle linebacker guarding the underneath middle. Diggs is running a drag from the left side, while Kyle Rudolph is running a settle route to the middle of the field. Cousins expects both to be covered, as the Saints will have three defenders for only two Vikings receivers.

Cousins also knows that Treadwell on the left will likely be covered. The Saints have a cornerback in man coverage on him, with a safety over the top. Treadwell is outnumbered two to one. Murray is running a checkdown route to the flat, but with the Saints in man coverage, Murray would likely have to make a defender miss for the Vikings to gain yards. Instead, Cousins focuses on Thielen. Thielen is running an out route with the cornerback nearly ten yards off the ball. With the safety on the opposite side of the field, the cornerback has no help over the top and is trying to prevent the deep ball. Cousins recognizes that Thielen has the one-on-one coverage and that Thielen should be open for an easy first down.

Unfortunately for Cousins, the Saints were trying to bait Cousins into that pre-snap read. The Saints are indeed playing man coverage, but they have elected to double team Thielen. At the snap, the safety runs towards Thielen, cutting underneath Thielen’s out route and giving Cousins no window to throw to Thielen. Cousins quickly recognizes this and turns to throw to Rudolph, who now has a one-on-one matchup. However, Rudolph has no leverage, as the Saints defender started in the middle of the field. That allowed him to simply wait for Rudolph to break inside. With pressure now coming from the edges, Cousins attempts to step up in the pocket and look for Diggs.

Diggs, running a drag underneath, has a step on his defender. Cousins knows he can hit him to gain a few yards. If he does, he can avoid a potential mistake for his misdiagnosis of the coverage and set up a manageable third down. However, Diggs feels the defender close behind him. He believes that he can sharply stop and force the defender to run past him. It’s a risky bet, but one that could generate a big play if it works. Diggs stops and does indeed generate significant separation. However, Cousins believed Diggs would keep running. This miscommunication, with the quarterback playing conservatively and the receiver playing aggressively, leads to disaster for the Vikings. The Saints defender runs past Diggs, Cousins hits him in stride, and the pick six puts the Saints up two scores.

Cousins and the Vikings showed a little fight after that point, but the game was largely over. The Saints were content to run out the clock and force him to check the ball down.

Overall

On the day, Cousins was accurate on 27 of his 40 qualifying attempts for an accuracy percentage of 68 percent. That is a middling accuracy percentage on the season, but he was consistent for most of the game. He rebounded well from the last two weeks, but the mistakes were too much to overcome. The Vikings face another inconsistent at best defense this week in a home matchup vs the Lions. At 4-3-1, the Vikings are from out of the race, but they can’t afford many mistakes. A win against the Lions would set them up nicely to compete for the division title.

Week 8 – Film Breakdown Statistics

Accurate 27 Elite Throws 2
Inaccurate 13 Sacks 4
Accuracy % 68% Pressure % 46%
Touchdowns 2 Play Action % 17%
Interceptions 1 Drops 0
Turnover-Worthy Throws 2 Scrambles 0
Completed Air Yards 226 First Downs 21
Yards After Catch 133 Target Leader Diggs – 12
Yards After Catch % 37% 3rd Down Conversion % 60%

Year-to-Date Film Breakdown Statistics

Accurate 219 Elite Throws 14
Inaccurate 111 Sacks 22
Accuracy % 66% Pressure % 40%
Touchdowns 16 Play Action % 21%
Interceptions 4 Drops 16
Turnover-Worthy Throws 19 Scrambles 12
Completed Air Yards 1383 First Downs 115
Yards After Catch 1157 Target Leader Thielen – 102
Yards After Catch % 46% 3rd Down Conversion % 40%

 

For more information on the “Charting Cousins” series, please check out Charting Cousins in his week one game against the 49ers.

– Madison Parkhill writes for Full Press Coverage and covers the Vikings and Fantasy Football. Follow him @MadPark44 and follow @FPC_Vikings.

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